by Vadim Drobinin

Your weekly crème de la crème of the Internet is here!

08.02.2022 (read in browser)

  1. Intro

    Whatever is on my mind this week.

  2. Things I enjoyed reading

    Ten-ish articles I found worth reading.

  3. Things I didn't know last Tuesday

    Ten-ish facts I didn't know when I wrote the previous edition.

  4. Book of the week

    Some thoughts on the latest book I've read.

On food staycation

This week I took a break from cooking and focused on something as important: on eating.

Eating out in the capital is simple but boring. The concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants around is depressing when you realise that trying all tasting sets would take ages (especially given that in a week some of them might loose or gain those stars).

Traveling to another country or city solely for the purpose of lunch is a different story – and one very-well regarded here in the UK.

Hiking, which is pretty much a national sport, is not considered successful if there is no Sunday roast waiting for you on the way back home.

So we picked nearly randomly and went to a town around a ford on the River Lea.

I can't really say much about it: a few streets, a museum, a nice vintage shop, but the most important part – the lunch – was fine too.

Croquets are pretty much cheating in 2022: they're good everywhere, this ones are with oxtail and peppered aioli.

Black treacle & fennel cured organic salmon was nice, linguine with wild rabbit, oyster mushrooms and pancetta were unusual but full of fat, and Manx kipper pâté lived up to the expectations.

My favourite dish was the smoked haddock rarebit. Usually a Welsh rarebit is a piece of toast grilled with some cheese- and beer-based sauce, but here the carbs were replaced by a perfectly cooked haddock.

Probably worth replicating at home, even though the bread and cheese version is a dish to die for too.

Things I enjoyed reading

1. Drugs, Punk Rock, and handmande street pasta by @cesarischafa

I really enjoyed reading about this pasta pop-up and the people behind it, for both the idea and the execution are wonderful.

I mean that in the best way possible. Sure the idea is to disrupt your ideas of pasta but also using and expanding on the various “pasta” dishes from different cultures. The green curry biang biang combines Chinese noodles with creamy, herby, and slightly spicy Thai curry. The tortellini en pozole verde packs the entire pozole experience into chewy dumplings housing a rich and savory mixture of pork shoulder, hominy, and chicken feet. The black metal Maruchan is like if jjajangmyeon and menudo had a goth child, noodles covered in a squid ink sauce with extremely beefy honeycomb tripe. The beef tongue llapingacho, a seared potato pancake reinforced with cheese, comes from Argoti’s Ecuadorian heritage.

Which reminds me that we need more stories about street food chefs. People talk about chefs in restaurants, but the number of plates food trucks and stalls serve these days is enormous, and the expertise of those cooking them is as good (if not better).

2. Searching for Susy Thunder by Claire L. Evans

Most people know about the hacking legends of the last century, like Kevin Mitnick, but almost no one heard of Susy Thunder who was playing in the same league.

As she sweet-talked security guards, triangulated rock stars’ whereabouts, and pulled phone scams for backstage passes, Susan was following an instinct she’d had since childhood. When she was just a little kid, she’d beaten a polygraph test. It didn’t matter that her stepfather was a Navy man. It didn’t matter that her own mother didn’t believe her. It didn’t even matter that the system was rigged against her, and other survivors of abuse, from the outset. Its bureaucracy was inflexible, inhuman, but that rigidity made it vulnerable, too. There were ways to use the rules to break the rules. The older she got, the more she saw the polygraph as a lesson, revealing, to her, the hidden truth of the world: that everything is a system, and every system can be cracked.

And this story is a great piece of nostalgia about the times when hacking was more about pushing the boundaries of technologies rather than stealing someone's social media account.

3. What Was the TED Talk? by Oscar Schwartz

I pretty much grew up watching TED talks, and dreamt of giving one (up until I realised how many local TEDx events are really mediocre), and yet despite being very inspiration they didn't really do much, neither to myself nor to the people I know, and the author builds up on this point:

Of course, Gates’s popular and well-shared TED talk — viewed millions of times — didn’t alter the course of history. Neither did any of the other “ideas worth spreading” (the organization’s tagline) presented at the TED conference that year — including Monica Lewinsky’s massively viral speech about how to stop online bullying through compassion and empathy, or a Google engineer’s talk about how driverless cars would make roads smarter and safer in the near future. In fact, seven years after TED 2015, it feels like we are living in a reality that is the exact opposite of the future envisioned that year.

Let's just dream for a minute of how beautiful the world would be if those talks were actually changing people.

4. Joel Coen's "The Tragedy of Macbeth", Reviewed by Ethan Coen by "Ethan Coen"

I guess a mandatory disclaimer would be to note that this is meant to be a satire, so the author is most likely not the Ethan Coen.

If the decision to take on Macbeth suggests that Mr. Coen is a sad wannabe flailing for credibility, the choice to film in black-and-white proves the case beyond any reasonable doubt. In a move that would get you kicked out Film 101 at the DeVry Institute of Mediocrity, Mr. Coen renders the Bard’s tale in black-and-white using a 4:3 aspect ratio, as if that alone makes you Akira fucking Kurosawa. Though black-and-white can occasionally be an inspired choice — 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There comes to mind — the only way in which this gambit might have been anything other than a desperately pretentious ploy is that it’s possible that Mr. Coen was simply too dumb to know that color film exists. Or, perhaps he thought “Hmm — Shakespeare’s old, black-and-white is old…I’ll film in black-and-white, just like they did back in Shakespeare times!”

Fucking moron.

However, stylistically it looks plausable, and that's pretty much how I would imagine the real tete-a-tete review.

5. How a hike ruled by socialist-era bureaucracy became a Hungarian rite of a passage by Nora Selmeczi

There is a very long trail in Hungary and people dream of walking it to get badges, but apparently that's complicated because bureaucracy. A hilarious story about a complex system of hiking gamification:

It sounds like fun. In reality, however, aspirants need to be prepared for all eventualities: unannounced hunting parties and road closures on the trail, missing stamps, or new ones added to the route, but not to the booklet. There are colourful stories about railway clerks who refuse to hand over the stamps kept inside their stations unless a hiker agrees to buy a train ticket home. One Romani chief keeps a stamp in his family home, fed up with its repeated theft. Some stamps lie forgotten in pubs, seemingly closed forever. Which begs the obvious question: Why do people take such hardships on themselves to obtain a badge at the end if it all?

Probably that's not much different from various scouts organisations? Hard to tell as I've never been to one.

6. The Sumerian Game: the most important video game you've never heard of by "Critical Kate" Willaert

I didn't really play most of the video games people remember even after decades, and my favourites were pretty much limited by the ones I could get from my friends or PC magazines.

But what we don’t have is a complete set of slides, printouts from stages two or three, the source code, and any cassette tape audio. It appears that even IBM no longer has copies, unless they’re hidden in some archive no one alive is aware of.

The Sumerian Game might forever remain one of those obscure Holy Grails that only fans of history are aware of. But the least we can do is remember Mabel Addis.

This one sounds quite interesting though, despite being pretty much lost in history.

7. Fire in the sky—a history of meteoritics by Maria Golia

The whole article is pretty entertaining but also I never thought that no one beleived in meteorites until the last few centuries:

Although a growing body of evidence, including chemical analyses, persuaded some members of Europe’s scientific community that meteorites may have come from space, theories that they were formed in Earth’s atmosphere or produced by lunar volcanoes persisted. But meteorites had finally passed from fable to fact. The 1824 edition of the French Dictionary of Natural History boasted a 46-page entry for pierres météoritiques marvelling how ‘…there was [recently] even some sort of stubbornness from savants to support the refutation (of meteoritic stones) and to ridicule those who were defending their existence.’

Even the first theories were way more complicated than an idea that it might have fallen from another planet.

8. Japan’s love affair with the fax machine – a strange relic of technological fantasies by Hansun Hsiung

The last time I had to deal with a fax machine was a few years ago, and this experience left me quite traumatised, but seems like there are countries where it became some kind of the national idea:

And nowhere is this better symbolised than in the country’s ongoing love affair with the fax machine. The 20th-century technology is still a fixture in many Japanese offices, where there remains an insistence on paper documents bearing personal seals. But rather than asking why Japanese businesses have patiently stood by their buzzing fax machines, perhaps we should really be asking: why do we find it so surprising? Why do representations equating Japan to high technologies persist so tenaciously, despite evidence to the contrary?

Many questions, but luckily the author gives us some answers.

9. Why is LinkedIn so cringe? by Trung Phan

I don't know how LinkedIn works for non-IT candidates, but being from the software engineering bubble I can confirm pretty much everything mentioned in the post:

Most people are different personalities at work vs. home vs. happy hour. People wear these different masks to impress or avoid embarrassment with different audiences.

Back to LinkedIn. It’s your online resume and directly tied to your identity.

The setup forces everyone on the site to basically wear the professional “CV mask” of their personality.

It also mostly focuses on ridiculous examples which I didn't quote, but they're worthy a look.

10. Controlling RGB LEDs With Only the Powerlines: Anatomy of a Christmas Light String by Tim

A pretty cool weekend project: disassembling a LED light strip to understand how it is built and how to control it:

Some more experimentation revealed that the communication is based on messages consisting of an address field and a data field. The data transmission is initiated with a single pulse. The count of following pulses indicates the value that is being transmitted using simple linear encoding (Which seems to be similar to what ChayD observed in his string, so possibly the devices are indeeed the same). No binary encoding is used.

I am quite far from the actual engineering (software is less hardcore, that's for sure) but maybe one day would gain enough courage to try it out myself.

Things I didn't know last Tuesday

1. The Frothy Power of Milk Powder

Might be oddly specific, but as someone who spent terrifying amounts of both fresh and powdered egg white to make sours, I am really excited to give a try to the milk powder as well:

But there’s another option that Nightmoves bar director Orlando Franklin McCray believes deserves a little more attention: milk powder. The shelf-stable ingredient offers an unorthodox way to add a creamy froth to cocktails without extra dilution.

It also must introduce way less smell than an egg white.

2. Why George Washington's Statue in London Doesn't Touch British Soil

My knowledge of American history is quite limited, so I know only a bare minimum (thanks to Hamilton the Musical and South park). And yet, this comes as a no surprise:

Because legend has it that George Washington once swore he would never set foot on British soil ever again, the erectors of the Trafalgar Square statue laid it on a foundation of Virginia soil to ensure that Washington did not tell a lie.

I wonder how much of the original soil is left behind it though, given the rains and stuff.

3. Ribbons for document security

Before all encryption algorithms people still cared about the security of their messages, and while seals make sense I never though of ribbons as being that helpful:

Ribbons were used to attach important documents together, but they also served a security function as proof against tampering. The clerk would cut slits in the paper or parchment, weave the ribbon through it, and then the signatories or government official would attach their wax seal, attach an embossed paper seal to the paper with sealing wax or a wafer, or emboss the paper itself.

There are a few examples behind the link for those curious about details.

4. Harrods Ltd v. Harrods Limousine Ltd

The London-based Harrods tried to sue a small shop in New Zealand for using the same name, so the town where the show was located renamed into "Harrodsville" and a bunch of other businesses changed their names into "Harrods" as well.

In 1986, the town of Otorohanga, New Zealand, briefly changed its name to "Harrodsville". This was a protest in support of a restaurateur, Henry Harrod of Palmerston North, who was being forced to change the name of his restaurant following the threat of lawsuits from Mohamed Al Fayed, the then owner of Harrods department store.

Hopefully they still learn about this event at history lessons.

5. Wine Bricks

During the Prohibition some wineries started to sell bricks of concentrated grape juice so people could ferment it at home:

A wine brick was a brick of concentrated grape juice – which was completely legal to produce – that consumers could dissolve in water and ferment in order make their own vino. But not every consumer knew how to make wine, so how did consumers know what to do? The instructions were printed directly on the packaging, but these instructions were masked as a warning of what not to do with the product.

The part about instructions being masked as warnings makes me think about all other warning labels I've seen in my life. Who knows, maybe that's where they're hidden powers are.

6. French dip

A beautiful invention, which is a meat sandwich meant for dipping into more meat (albeit liquid):

A French dip sandwich, also known as a beef dip, is a hot sandwich consisting of thinly sliced roast beef (or, sometimes, other meats) on a "French roll" or baguette. It is usually served plain but a variation is to top with Swiss cheese, onions, and a dipping container of beef broth produced from the cooking process (termed au jus, "with juice").

Should be also a good way to upcycle dried out bread.

7. Canadian traveller problem

The classic Traveller problem is a rather famous thing in the computer science world, but apparently there is a dedicated version specifically for Canada.

In computer science and graph theory, the Canadian traveller problem (CTP) is a generalization of the shortest path problem to graphs that are partially observable. In other words, the graph is revealed while it is being explored, and explorative edges are charged even if they do not contribute to the final path.

Supposedly the name comes from a difficulty Canadian drivers had: traveling a network of cities with snowfall randomly blocking roads.

8. How lithograph works

While the article also shows visually the way a lithograph works, I didn't know that the gum arabic, a base for lots of cocktail syrups, is so important to the process:

Gum arabic, or a combination of gum arabic with a mild acid solution, is then brushed onto the stone. The chemical reaction between the solution and the stone fixes the greasy image that is drawn with the oil-based lithographic crayon. At the same time, the solution ensures that the blank areas of the stone will absorb water and repel printing ink.

Might be a nice back-story for a cocktail with gum arabic.

9. Candlemas

Seems like the right time to remove Christmas decorations is in February:

In France, Belgium, and Swiss Romandy, Candlemas is celebrated in the churches on 2 February. It is also considered the day of crêpes.[19] Tradition attributes this custom to Pope Gelasius I, who had pancakes distributed to pilgrims arriving in Rome.

I guess that's why in my childhood no one bothered with removing the tree up until early Spring.

10. Railings converted from WWII stretchers

Some of the railings in London are made out of the World War II stretchers:

The stretchers were welded vertically together and fixed on poles, often sunken into concrete on a small wall.

The fences can be recognised by the two "V"s at each end, which raised the stretcher slightly off the ground.

I don't remember seeing one myself yet (so would have to pay more attention from now on), but apparently it's quite common as way too many stretchers were produced.

Book of the week

This time I stumbled upon an unusual book for me (albeit these days I think that anything even remotely related to cooking must be quite related to my interests).

Jennifer Lapidus' Southern Ground is partly about bakers and bakeries, and partly is about their recipes, all while focusing on the core ingredients of any bread.

We talk a lot about precision when it comes to baking, but the author argues that the quality of ingredients matter way more, and in that sense reminds me a lot about the grapes and the way a winemaker tries to open up their potential:

When I received his sample, after a quick glance, I tossed a handful into my mouth. I chew on bread wheat to assess gluten strength. I’m looking for elasticity and extensibility—I want the grain to transform into the consistency of chewing gum. This crop, even with its share of shriveled berries, passed my chew test. I would come to learn that lack of rain at the right time (especially during those last ten days before harvest) contributes to increased protein. This crop would serve the baker well. For the grower, yields were low, but even after screening out the shriveled kernels at cleaning, we were able to offer him a better market for his grain than if it were sold for feed, and we landed on an especially flavorful crop with strong performance. Here is the value of a regional grains economy in action.

So far I baked only a few loafs – exclusively brioche, if I were to ignore a failed attempt at making soda bread a year ago, and an odd experiment at baking bao dough (turned out fine but too crumbly).

This book didn't really inspire me to bake more, despite being a really detailed collection of recipes as well, but helped to see more behind the piece of bread than the usual magic powers of the yeast.

I wonder if it'd change the way I sample bread too?

Thank you and see you in a week!

If you have any questions, or want to suggest a link for the next newsletter, please drop me a message on Twitter or reply to this email.

Cheers! 🍸